I was still enduring the Curse of the Bambino. The curse started in 1920 when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth (The Great Bambino) to the New York Yankees. Now before this happened there are three things you must know. The Red Sox won the first World Series and amassed five total championships shortly after. The Yankees were a complete shithole of a team. Finally, the Sultan of Swat (Ruth) was still a pitcher. Four things happened after the sale. Babe Ruth became a hitter and went on to be the greatest baseball player of all time and the name most synonymous with the sport. The Red Sox didn’t win a championship for 86 years. The Red Sox owner used the one hundred thousand dollars to finance a Broadway musical in New York, no less. The Yankees became the most successful sports franchise in North America and won 27 World Championships, including one in 1999.
“Swing away, son!”
That’s what my grandfather used to say all the time. It was pretty much his catch phrase. The man is dead now, but I swear to the lord and his savior of a son I still hear it said in my sleep. The man was born and raised in New York City. Brooklyn to be exact, back before it was filled with, and I quote him, “Those fucking thug niggers”. Did I mention he cussed like a sailor? He wasn’t one, but he did fight in World War II and he was a fireman. He would always insist on him being called an ex-fireMAN. He would say, “I am a man and I fought fires, what the fuck is insensitive about that?” Personally, I don’t care too much about being PC, one way or the other. However, I do think risking your life for as long as the body was willing deserves some clout and the freedom to say whatever you damn well please.
“See that boy? That’s a real fucking swing. Hear that crack? You only hear that in Yankee Stadium.” He was talking about the one built in 1923, not the new one tailored made for Alex Rodriguez and his steroid infused swing. He was also talking about Derek Jeter back when he was young in 1999 and hitting in the four hole. I had just turned ten and I was and still am a Red Sox fan. My grandfather, however, decided to take me to a Yankees game because, and I quote, “you might as well punch me in the berries, spit in my face, and stab me in the kidney so I die nice and slow than go to Fenway!” (home of the Sox). Can you tell there is a rivalry?
“There goes Scottie! Hitting Jeter in! See that boy? See him swing away? Gotta have a low stance like Scottie there. Turn your hips when you swing away, that’s where you get your power boy!”
Third baseman Scott Brosius had hit one of 17 home runs he would hit that season. When I was a kid, I thought my grandfather hated me. Honestly, why else would he take me to see the Yankees, a team I was required by Boston law to hate? Well, like everyone, there was a lot of shit I just flat out didn’t understand as a child.
For one, those trips to Yankee Stadium taught me the game of baseball.
“Look, hes giving him the signal! I’ll bet ya grandmother’s life that that fucker is gonna go for the squeeze!” Translation: There was a man on third base and in scoring position with only 1 out. The game was in the 8th inning and runs needed to be made in order to get the win. So the hitter at the plate was signaled to bunt down the first base line where he would all but surely be out at first. However, the man at third would have an easy run at home, scoring the run. Oh, and my grandfather loved my grandmother, I swear.
These trips were more than just learning the game.
“Come on son, get the fuck up! The Yanks are gonna win! Cheer god damnit! You might as well root for a team that knows how to fucking win!”
I didn’t get up. I didn’t cheer. I sat there with a frown on my face. My grandfather looked down and smiled. I had no idea then, but my grandfather was teaching me a life lesson that day. Something that was even more important to him than the Yankees. He was teaching me loyalty. He was teaching me that even when the shit hits the fan, you stick to your guns. He was teaching me to never give up.
Fast forward 5 years. October 2004. The Boston Red Sox were facing the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Boston was down 3 games to none losing 4-3 in the ninth inning in game 4. A Boston hitter was walked and his pinch runner stole a base. That led to an RBI single to tie the game 4-4. Move to the 12th inning, David Ortiz hits a 2 run home run to win the game. The Red Sox avoid elimination and begin their road to the impossible. They continued to win, and eventually tied the series at 3 all. No one had ever come back from 3 games down in a series before. Game 7 of the series was watched at my grandfather’s house in Connecticut. The Sox won, and I looked back at my grandfather expecting a look of disgust or anger. He was looking back at me, and I was surprised at what I saw. He was smiling and nodding. My loyalty had paid off, and my grandfather’s lesson was complete.
The Red Sox wound up sweeping the Cardinals that year, winning the World Series and “reversed the curse”. They won again in 2007. My grandfather died in 2008. He left behind a legacy of baseball and loyalty. They closed down the old Yankee Stadium 2 months later.